"I'm sorry to say", "I have some bad news", "It's unfortunate but", these are the rough translations you can make from Japanese to English of "Zannen desu ga", and this is what I had to say to my aikido comrades tonight.
I've been waiting for the right time, which is very important in relaying such news in Japan, about telling them my decision to leave Japan. I needed to do it soon, and kind of wish I had done it before winter break, but I really don't have many oppurtunities to say such things even though I meet them four nights a week. Basically, I needed to say it to Sensei, and at least the two other high ranking students, Hosogoshi and Ueno, but to say it in front of everybody who shows up to main practice on Monday and Thursday nights would be putting myself out there too much; they'll hear about it before the time, but even if they didn't, it wouldn't be a problem to say, "Hey, I'm leaving in a couple weeks," if it came to that. On Saturday night practices we are in a small dojo that is shared with a noisy karate group, so breaking the news during that wouldn't be quite appropriate either. So it would have to be a Wednesday night class. The two times before the break that I was going to do it, one night a new person showed up to see class, and that wouldn't be right, and the other I basically just "didn't feel it." But tonight, it was perfect: It was only Sensei, Hosogoshi, Ueno, and Ii (who I feel very close with and climbed Tsurugi-dake with in the summer), and I. I'm actually really glad Ii was there tonight for this, and no one else was there that usually shows up to Wednesday night classes.
I've pondered exactly how to bring it up, and what to say for a long time, and today at school Inasked one of my English teachers to help me get the words just right. I knew the few sentences I wanted to say, and could even get them almost perfect in my own Japanese, but I needed to get some help to make it all right. I wanted to tell them I was returning to my homecountry, and that it was my own individual decision. I also wanted to tell them that it was in fact a very difficult decision. And also that it wasn't because of any dissatisfaction with aikido, and rather the saddest part about it all is that I won't be able to practice aikido with them anymore. When I asked me teacher what he thought of what he wanted to say, he stared off into space frozen for a minute as I saw his wheels turning making his face a little red, and he said muzukashii na, difficult. Though these types of things certainly have their own way of being done properly, they are really hard to put into words. The words used can often be very impersonal in these situations to make up for any ill or uncomfortable feelings, so the right facial expressions and tones are very important. I understood this, and he helped me to refine what I was to say.
Well, tonight's practice was great, but I spent about 70% of the time rehearsing what I was going to say in my head over and over again, and couldn't pay attention to what sensei was saying. Finally afterwards we all sat and formally ended class with mokso (one-minute meditation-esque time to think about the night's practice) and my heart started pumping and I wasn't sure if I was going to say it or not. We finished, and sensei had a couple words like usual, and sitting in a circle, people are moments away from getting their things as they begin undoing their belts, and so I just started:
Zannen desu ga ... kotoshi no hachigatsu ni kikokusuru koto ni shimashita.
Sugoku muzukashii ketsudan deshita.
Honto ni, ichiban zannen na koto wa, kikokusuru to, minnasan to aikido ga dekinaru koto desu.
Kikokusuru made, yoroshiku onegai itashimasu."
"I'm deeply sorry...
But unfortunately ... I have decided to return to my country this August.
It was an incredibly difficult decision to make.
Truly, the saddest part about this, is that when I go home, I won't be able to train in aikido with you all.
Until I that time ... yoroshiku onegai itashimasu"
That last part is really hard to translate accurately into English. It usually means, "thank you in advance," like when I ask a favor of someone. I guess here I'm asking them the favor of giving me good aikido practice. But anyway, the way shown above is the most formal way of saying it, and the most appropriate for this situation.
It went over as well as possible. No one in the group is the type to give me shit, or make things awkward, but instead they reacted perfectly naturally, making comments to how fun it's been training, asking some simple questions, giving me respect for my decision, and cracking jokes to lighten the mood. I was even more nervous about a ride home alone with sensei, but we talked about the usual things, and there was no problem at all.
If this seems at all a bit dramatic, perhaps it is. This time in Japan has been a dream of mine for so long, and to practice aikido has been surreal. On top of that, I have been met with the most sincere of heart and skillful of technique in my training partners, and after many hours every week from unbearable humidity to frozen snow drifts, to the everyday grind while others neglect practice, and through late nights drinking far more than we should, I have grown closer to these people than anyone else in Japan. I consider them family. It's always been understood that I would probably be here for only a few years, but after over a year of showing up to every practice, doing well on every test, and obviously aspiring to further my skill, I think they're surprised I'd leave before earning a black belt ... but I guess I am too.
Well, that is a huge lump of sticky green icky news I had to get out, and now, I don't have any other business to clear up or take care of except have the best time I can before I leave in August.
As far as this blog is concerned, maybe this is it for a while of my dramatic whoa-is-me apocalyptic talk, and I can start telling you more interesting things about aikido like the cool stuff we do and the weird stuff sensei says.